How Do We Get This Done?

Posted August 11, 2017 @ 11:16am | by Tripp

There’s no two ways about it. Writing a dissertation is a grind. It’s creative. It’s important. It’s also a daily grind. One word at a time grind. Last night, I posted on Facebook about that grind. I whine there and people are always kind enough to respond. If I ever finish this thing, I wonder how I’ll ever be able to thank or repay any of the kind people. 

This morning, I’m wondering about what it actually looks like to do what I’m doing. Logistically. Spiritually, it’s hubris. Emotionally, it’s just lonely. Psychologically, it’s an open war between Id and Ego...assuming a Freudian lens, of course. Let’ s not get into Adler or Jung. Well...maybe Adler. Adlerian psychodrama is so interesting. But I digress. Of course, I do. Digression is my spiritual gift. 

The hope every day is as follows: I arise around six o’clock to feed the cats and make coffee. EP stays in bed with his mama for a moment or two before tearing the joint up with shouts of “’ ola and milk!” We get ourselves caffeinated (not EP; he has no need for such banality) and dressed. By eight o’clock I am to be sitting in front of the desk attempting to put words to the page until lunchtime. This is when I become Lead Parent/Toddler Wrangler. Trish is at liberty to go to the theater, etc. There is no more work done in relation to the dissertation from this point onward for the remainder of the day.

No reading. No noodling. No general confusion. The afternoon and evening belong to the family. Then there’s bedtime and my brain stops. Often, I’m in bed with EP. Sometimes I’m in a vegetative state in front of a screen until ten o’clock. If I go to sleep any later, EP is sure to wake up at four o’clock in the morning needing something. 

In theory, this is a great schedule. I get a few hundred words written five days a week. Excellent. In practice, it’s like hitting a bullseye with a bow and arrow from one hundred yards away while hopping up and down on one leg with your eyes closed. The variables are too many or too potent (see: toddler mayhem). Let’s not get started on the emotional state of yours truly in all this.

No, let’s do. Why? Not to whine, but because it’s real and I need to remind myself that it’s real.

There’s no shortage of articles on the subject. Many Ph.D.s battle with depression. It’s science.  “Approximately one-third of Ph.D. students are at risk of having or developing a common psychiatric disorder like depression, a recent study reports.” Another article reads, “A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47% of graduate students suffer from depression, following a previous 2005 study that showed 10% had contemplated suicide.” Cheery stuff. 

It is true that sometimes it’s just the blues. There are ways through. So, part of the work is to figure out if I’m blue or depressed. I’m always vigilant. I’m also medicated. So, there’s that. 

I had no need for medication to help me wrangle my depression before entering a Ph.D. program. Twelve-step work and the occasional check-up with a therapist always sufficed. But this has been an entirely different show.

I have lived off the rails, so to speak, most of my time here in Berkeley. With the help of therapy, medication, and the kindness of community and friendship, I’ve been able to keep it together. I consider it a victory that my spouse still imagines spending the rest of her life with me like it’s a good thing rather than a form of punishment for wrongdoings in a past life. 

But this doesn’t make it easy. And it doesn’t make the understandably challenging expectations of the program a lighter load to bear. Quite the contrary, most days, truth be told, the load is far too much to bear. Most days, I spend my time fending off the dissertation demons. Self-doubt, my affinity for perfection, my ego, etc. all have their say. There are the demands of parenting and marriage. Now, let’s add to that mix the medical condition of anxiety and depression. 

Now, we’re cooking with gas.

The Ph.D. process was devised for single men. It’s true. The process was devised assuming a certain kind of scaffolding (nigh unto monastic) to free up the scholar from all worldly concerns. Here in the 21st Century, this same process is shoehorned in with the seventeen other things that one has to do to keep one’s head above water in late-capitalist post-modernity. We write in our spare time. 

So, how does one manage? Well, there’s no listicle that will cover all of it. So, in the spirit of lumping all things together, let me say this: be gentle. 

Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with your loved ones. Be gentle with your friends. Be gentle with your advisor and thesis readers. Be gentle with strangers you meet on the street. Be gentle. 

Don't lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don't rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God's help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say "gently" because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety...I recommend you to God's mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love.- Francis de Sales

I’ve posted this quotation at the top of the blog for a reason. Every so often I think I should swap it out, but then the utility and truthfulness of it shine again. 

Be gentle. This is how we get this thing done. 

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